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Metropolitan and Israel Museum Acquire rare 15th Mishneh Torah

April 29, 2013
MISHNEH TORAH, MAIMONIDES, WITH HAGAHOT MAIMUNIYYOT AND TESHUVOT MAIMUNIYYOT, NORTHERN ITALY, CA. 1457

MISHNEH TORAH, MAIMONIDES, WITH HAGAHOT MAIMUNIYYOT AND TESHUVOT MAIMUNIYYOT, NORTHERN ITALY, CA. 1457

The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Israel Museum have jointly acquired a rare 15th century Mishneh Torah from Michael and Judy Steinhardt, according to Bloomberg News.  The intricately illustrated work on leather and parchment was scheduled to be sold this morning at Sotheby’s, the top estimated lot at $4.5-6 million of 386 from the Steinhardt’s collection of Judiaca.  The Bloomberg article included this statement from Michael Steinhardt:

“The acquisition of this remarkable manuscript by the Israel Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art is poetic given Judy’s and my longstanding involvement with both institutions,” Michael Steinhardt said in an emailed statement. “It is particularly meaningful that this event marks the first significant collaboration between the two museums.”

According to the lot notes:

The groundbreaking and all-encompassing Mishneh Torah, completed in 1180 [by Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides), also known by the acronym Rambam], became the first comprehensive post-Talmudic code of Jewish law to be arranged according to subject matter. Comprising the full range of Biblical, Talmudic and Rabbinic legislation, it was organized into fourteen discrete books. So that it could provide layman and scholar alike with an authoritative compilation of normative rulings, it was written in a lucid and concise Hebrew. The Mishneh Torah functioned as the authoritative code for Jewish communities across the diaspora and served as a model for subsequent codifications of Jewish law, such as the Tur by Rabbi Jacob ben Asher and the Shulhan Arukh by Rabbi Joseph Karo. To this day, the Mishneh Torah remains a “living” text, studied and referred to by rabbis and scholars alike.

The present manuscript was originally conceived in two volumes. The first part, now in the Vatican, comprises books I-V, and is lacking book VI. The present volume consists of Books VII-XIV.

While the purchase price was not disclosed, Bloomberg did report who made the acquisition possible:

The Israel Museum acquired the volume with support from the Steinhardts, Zurich collectors Susanne and Rene Braginsky, co- founder of Incentive Asset Management AG; Renee and Lester Crown, chairman of Henry Crown & Co, Chicago-based private investment group; philanthropist Lynn Schusterman of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and one anonymous donor, the museum said in an announcement.

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